Early Days Of Restaurant Life

Today is day three since we signed our lease. We are all busy. Each of us has something we’re concentrating on. James is getting ready for school to start on Monday. He has the challenge of getting his body on a normal time schedule after months of sleeping in. He wrote a paper on the Grapes of Wrath and finished with four days to spare. We call him the genius in our house.

Anne’s been baking like a maniac. Today she made brownies for the third time. This time she nailed it. The brownies were moist, chocolaty and very addicting. That is what we are striving for, food that after one bite makes a person go a little crazy and then get’s them thinking about the next time they are going to eat that terrific food.

She baked lemon-rosemary and lavender sables. Sables are a French butter/sugar cookie. They are normally round and about the size of a quarter. They’re light and satisfying if you want something sweet and don’t want to eat a big huge, chocolate chip cookie. People like them especially women because they can sneak a sable and still feel like they are keeping to their diet.

We will offer probably four different sables, lemon-rosemary, lavender, anise, chocolate-pistachio.

The boys and I are working on homemade sodas. We won’t offer coke or pepsi type products, but will make homemade sodas. We plan to feature cola and root beer flavors. They’ll be mixed with cane sugar but we are experimenting with sweetening them with agave. The only problem is that agave costs five times as much as cane sugar.

I’m torn about whose espresso beans we’ll use. Recently I tasted two of the best espressos that I’ve had outside Italy. One was from a local Los Angeles roaster called Cafecito Organico. They’re a small time roaster, but their beans are terrific. The espresso is strong and thick like molasses and has hints of chocolate.The other espresso vendor is a pop up coffee shop called Cognoscenti Coffee. Their store front is in Eagle Rock. His beans are from a small roaster named Four Barrel in San Francisco. I have to give him the nod. His espresso is smooth and not at all bitter. It leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth. Since I’ve had that espresso I can’t want to go back for another. I also love the name Cognoscenti. It’s Italian and means well known or famous.

Tomorrow I will work on hooking up the espresso machine. Patrick and I have resorted to walking to Kaldi down the road for our espressos. They’re good. but I think we can do better with our Cognoscenti beans.

We have spent three days cleaning the kitchen. I have worked in kitchens all my life and one thing is certain about a kitchen. Every single kitchen has a film of grease that glazes everything from the walls, to the sinks, to the floors. We have scoured these surfaces with comet, degreaser and everything else you can think of. We’ve made a ton of progress and it feels great. I even cleaned the pipes under the sink.

Tomorrow we paint. Hopefully we’ll get half the kitchen done by tomorrow. We’ll see.

Take a look at Anne’s brownies. Look pretty good?

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Signing the Lease Tomorrow

We are signing the lease tomorrow. Anne and I are both excited and nervous at the same time. It is quite an adventure. I’ve been in the business my whole life, but I have always been a Robin to a corporate Batman.  There is something in my character that made me play the role of the sidekick. I did the dirty work.  I  solved the nasty problems. I smoothed out chaotic operations and I built really good teams. I accepted my role with grace. Sometimes too much grace.

Tomorrow we begin work on a project that is all ours. It’s our vision and our dream to create a European style cafe with the charm and character of something you would find along the Seine in Paris.

Anne has the artistic vision. I have the food vision. Together we plan to meld our imaginations into something really creative and unique.

We will keep you posted with stories, recipes and pictures.

Tomorrow is a day of bleach, comet, oven cleaner degreaser, mops and  buckets. The boys and I will spend the day cleaning the kitchen. Wish us luck.

We plan to name the restaurant

Fiore Market Cafe

Here are a few pictures from the last couple of days. Ciao.

I want this bicicletta

I love espresso machines and porcelain. cups

More Pizza

Why am I so whacked about pizza? Is anyone else like me? I mean it’s just some flour and  water and yeast and salt and olive oil, topped with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Yet, the ingredients blend so well.

Yesterday, the boys and I made pizza for the first time in about 3 weeks. We have been concentrating on the restaurant which won’t be a pizza restaurant so we let the thought of pizza leave our minds for awhile. I’m surprised that I did so well off the stuff, but my oldest son started asking about pizza a few days ago. He said to Anne “why haven’t we made pizza for awhile.” Then my youngest asked about it too. so I figured what the hell. We won’t have pizza in the restaurant, but we can make it anytime in the backyard.

The fire took awhile to get going. It went out twice before it started to blaze, but once it did, the temperature shot up to 800 degrees within two hours. It was so hot that the first pizza took about 60 seconds. The top was golden brown, but the crust was deeply charred. My son James hammered me about it. He demanded to take over and ended up baking three wonderful pizzas. He is  a master. He baked them very close to the entrance where the tiles weren’t so hot. The crust was perfect.

He is tough, but I learn a lot from him. His pizzas yesterday were some of the best I have ever had. He always says “we must do better”

I hope he has this philosophy with school work this year.

Farm Life

The soil is dusty and full of dirt clumps that have solidified in the soil for years. My friend is trying trying to break up these clumps to make flower beds. It’s back breaking work. Each drop of the pitch hammer triggers a shattering of the ground. Clumps pop up. Dust shimmers in the blue sky. My throat is parched from the dust and heat. I dip a shovel into the piles of rock and sand and heave it into the plastic wheel barrel. The plastic creaks and bends with the weight of the stone. It’s nothing like the old heavy metal wheel barrels I remember as a kid, but this one works fine. I  load it less and take my time. Age has caught up to me a bit. I am only 48 and I don’t move like I used to. I forge ahead. I am  resilient, but I am by no means fast.

The work feels good. It reminds me of Italy. When I am in Italy I do manual labor with my friend Stefano. He refurbishes old stone houses. When I am there I roll up my sleeves, try not to get in the way and follow his lead. Stefano and his friends work like oxes.They’re strong. They accomplish quite a bit in a short time, but they also have fun. They chain smoke and take breaks for shots of grappa or  espresso. It’s agonizing work, but when the day is done and the sun is setting and my back feels like it’s about to break I have a real nice feeling in my stomach. The plate of pasta for dinner tastes especially good and the sliced peaches afterward are sweet and memorable. Food taste better after that physical exertion.

I like it much better than sitting at a computer sending emails all day.

The Work Begins (Hopefully Soon)

The work is starting. We’ll sign a lease by tomorrow and then it’s on.First things first. My plan is to scrub the kitchen from top to bottom, clean out the grease trap, possibly paint the walls and ceiling and organize the space.

Yesterday, Anne and I measured the kitchen and the front. We stood in the middle of the two rooms and let our imaginations go to work. We changed our minds about a dozen times and at one point we were totally confused about what each other envisioned or wanted with the space.

After an hour or so we went home. I made fried green tomatoes with a cornmeal crust for dinner. It was my first time experimenting with green tomatoes. Usually we wait until their ripe before we pull them off the vine. They tasted a bit sour. Anne thought they tasted like ketchup which seems strange because they were so green. When I hear the work ketchup the color red comes to mind.

When the dishes were cleaned and put away Anne and I took out some hard card stock paper and drew up the dining room. I attempted to make it look nice with a ruler, but that was  futile. We made real progress when Anne grabbed the red pen from my hand and went free form with the drawing. It looks messy because I am a doodler. I redraw things until the tip of the pen sctraches through the paper.

There is a very dark red circle that I kept pursuing with the pen. That is where the hub of activity will be. This is where the expeditor, runners cooks will coordinate everything. Anne couldn’t understand why I kept circling it like a madman.

I am sorry but that’s just what I do. She also had to remind me that the expeditors station was a few inches to the right. Oops. Well like I said I am just a doodler she is the free form artist.

Here are a couple of items. What do you think of the black tags? That’s Anne’s idea.

More Joshua Tree Pictures in Black and White

I am an amateur photographer. I used to take  photographs on film regularly until about  18 years ago when my camera was stolen. Actually I should say the Toyota 4 Runner was stolen and inside was the camera. I never went back to film after that. I eventually bought a very chip digital camera and then after a few years I bought a Canon EOS digital camera. This camera takes fantastic pictures. I love it. It’s easy, inexpensive and quick as hell. I take 100 pictures in a few hours download them . I process them and then post the nest ones.

Recently I found a very cheap film camera that I bought on Ebay. I failed twice to get more than a few pictures out of the roll of film. The first roll was torn to shreds in the camera because we loaded it improperly. The second roll stopped advancing after a few frames. I should have realized this but didn’t. When that roll was developed only two pictures turned out and they weren’t great.

This time my friend McGuyver tweaked the camera bit to facilitate the advancing of the film. He got it right. Thirteen pictures were decent, but I think the photo service attendant lost 2 frames of negatives because I was missing the last eight photographs. Oh well there’s always next time.

Joshua Tree

Anne and I lived in Palm Springs in 1987 for about 10 months. I was working for a small chain of restaurants in Los Angeles. I was a workaholic assistant manager who stuck one foot out and that one foot clung to the rung of a very tall ladder that I climbed for many years. My first promotion was to general manager. A position was vacated and I immediately dove for it. I persisted. I wanted it so bad. No one could understand. My boss told me to wait for the next opening. The president of the company stared in disbelief while I begged for the opportunity. Mind you I didn’t look that desperate, but inside  I was. The only problem was the general manager’s position was in Palm Springs.

Anne acquiesced. We had been dating for about 8 months. When I mentioned Palm Springs  she smirked. “Do you really want to live in Palm Springs.? You have never even been there.” I had the ambition bug and it kept me from thinking normally. I wanted what I wanted. I wanted to move up this ladder. I wanted accolades. I wanted to be the best restaurant manager around. If that meant we had to live in 110 degree heat so be it. Now I am grateful she didn’t say screw off. She endured the heat with me and we had fun, but we also had some crazy times. One night our air conditioner in the apartment stopped working. It was hot as hell even at 10pm so we decided to go to a motel. We drove to a local motel that we  passed daily on the main thoroughfare . We had a great night sleep, but woke up to find that our car was dead. We ended up standing at a bus stop in unbearable heat waiting for a bus to take us back to our equally unbearably hot apartment. We were so damn mad standing on that corner. She staed at me with that look that said “What the hell am I doing in Palm Springs in the middle of the summer.”

About the same time U2 came out with their album Joshua Tree. On the album cover there’s a picture of the band in Joshua Tree.. Now Joshua Tree is only about 30 minutes from Palm Springs. It is further east. Just past Indio. Anne and I listened to that album over and over. I had bought an inexpensive turntable when we met and we had about 6-10 albums that we wore out.  Joshua Tree was one of them along with Paul Simon’s Graceland and Billy Joel’s The Bridge.

Palm Spring’s is nice, but it’s littered with the ugliness of strip malls and billboards advertising casinos and adult book stores and beers of every type. Now outlet stores have been added to the beauty of it all.

When Anne and I lived in Palm Springs we never drove the short 30 miles to Joshua Tree. I was too wrapped up in my kitchen duties fileting fish in the middle of the afternoon or catching up on piles of paperwork. It seemed so much further than the 30 miles and we already were in the desert so how could it be that much different. We just forgot about it. On my days off, usually Sundays and Mondays we drove to LA and hung out at her parents house. The lower temperature made us feel normal for 48 hours. We feasted on her father’s cooking. He’s Italian and loves to lean over the stove. We’d eat pasta and roast chickens and sausage cooked on the grill. We’d sit at the table and listen to stories and when the food was gone a bowl of sliced watermelon would be passed around the table. Everyone would complain that it was mushy and her mother Francs would simply say “Whatever”.

This past Friday I went camping in Joshua tree with 10 other guys. It was a short mini retreat. I roasted chicken and baked some bread for our meals. We didn’t do much, but we hiked twice and I had the opportunity to witness what Bono and the boys experienced back in the 80’s.

Joshua Tree was beautiful. The sky was perfectly blue, clean, crisp and untainted by smog and smoke. The sand was coarse and in spots deep like the sand at the beach. The rocks and stones were balanced on each other as if done by an artist. Their surface appeared pocked with tiny suction cups. When I walked on them the rubber soles of my shoes gripped the stone.

The heat during the day was bearable. At night it cooled down enough so that I could sleep and I didn’t wake up with that nasty sweaty desert feeling. I felt pretty damn good.

When I got home I told Anne and the boys that  wanted to take I them out to Joshua Tree to camp for a weekend. The response was negativo. Anne said no way Jose. James said no and Patrick was lukewarm about the idea.

Maybe I better just pull out that old Joshua Tree album because that’s probably the closest I will get to Joshua Tree for the next 23 years.

The decision

It’s nothing like what Lebron had to go through and there’s definitely no television coverage but it’s still a decision.

Now she says she hasn’t made a final decision. She needs until Monday to decide. When I left her office of Friday we had come to agree on all the points for leasing her space. I had given back quite a bit of what I was asking for. I increased the amount of the security so she would feel more secure.

Now  we wait, but while we wait we cook and bake and have some fun. Yesterday I made homemade dill pickles to serve on the slow roasted short rib sandwich. When I got home last night I made a cold rare roast beef sandwich with sliced  tomatoes, from the pot outside our back door, arugula and a horseradish mayonnaise.

Today I am roasting chicken for an overnight camping trip. I will roast them in the wood burning oven. I season them with tons of kosher salt and coarse ground pepper. When they are done I will let them rest,  cut them up and then  drizzle them with the pan juices and refrigerate for the next day. To me there is nothing better than cold roast chicken.

Tomorrow I will make our spicy Asian udon noodles. They are wheat free and gluten free and are made with lots of fresh crispy raw vegetables in a spicy peanut soy dressing with fresh cilantro. They were a huge hit the last time we made them for the family.

Anne and I found two really cool antique pieces. One for inside the restaurant. The other for outside on the terrace. The one for outside will serve as a water station/work station. We will set it with  25 liter metal water cooler, Gibralter glasses and silverware. There will be fresh flowers.

The piece for inside is very long, 96 inches. It will serve as a display area for all our pastries and as a location for the cash register.

Ideas are flowing.

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